How (and Why) To Make Organizational Alignment Happen
In the plainest language we can muster, organizational alignment is when every member of an entire group is aware of and agrees on the group’s direction. Typically, that direction is set forth in a strategic plan supported by an implementation and/or operational plan. An example:
- Strategic plan: The organization is going to relieve child hunger by making and distributing peanut butter.
- Implementation plan: The organization will make 50,000 tubs of peanut butter, and fundraise enough to pay for production and distribution.
- Operational plan: My project is to find suppliers from whom we can buy enough peanuts to make 50,000 tubs this year.
These examples become ever more granular, with the operational plan having numerous projects to support the implementation and strategic plan.
Now, the words will differ. Insert the ones that feel best to you. You are not organizationally aligning with us right now, so we can be loose with words. If we were trying to align, though, we would be real sticklers. There would be a glossary, a business rules document — the whole nine yards.
To help illustrate the value of organizational alignment, let's discuss what happens in its absence. Without organizational alignment, resources are spent on activities that do not align with the mission. We are out of alignment if the organization wants to make peanut butter, but we keep buying bananas for the manufacturing facility.
But lack of alignment can happen at any level (including non-ridiculous ones) because subordinate employees do not have the tools to see if their work aligns with the strategic plan. They cannot know except in broad strokes, like, “We need to raise $14 million this fall.” But what they may not know is that the organizational goal is (for example) to retain more event participants and transition them to sustaining donors. Without knowing that, they cannot help, which could hurt achieving the unknown (to them) goal.
And, sadly, the lack of alignment can manifest as group infighting because the group never came together to decide exactly what the group's goal was. That infighting can consume all the energy, money and time that could otherwise have gone to filling hungry kids’ bellies with peanut butter.
Here is a four-step plan to help your organization align:
1. Invest in transparency and understanding. Confirm beyond any doubt — do we all understand the mission the same way? Words are a way to label thoughts. Often, labeling mistakes unintentionally mislead people as to your true intent. “Defund the police” comes to mind. Do we all believe our mission statement means the same thing? Settle this for sure during your strategic planning. The decisions you set forth in this document will predicate everything that follows.
2. Really commit to transparency. The agreed-upon mission, the supporting values, the ever-more-granular subordinate goals — all must be transparent. They must be understood by every member of the organization. We all must know the goals and the goal structure. Spoiler: If you do this currently by distributing a document, you are just going to hate what comes next.
3. Each person’s daily work must be connected to the over-arching plan to measure progress. Yes, I am sorry. This is the hardest part, but, in all likelihood, you will need another platform. If your strategic plan lives in a document, and there is no compelling reason for most organizations to dig into that document every single day, you need a new system.
You must be able to map every single person’s everyday work back to the strategic plan. If someone completes a project, the reporting of their work against the plan should roll up to the top level automatically. Yes, this is achievable. However, in my experience, see a massive resistance to mapping and tracking everyday work to the over-arching plan. Be prepared for this — transparency installs accountability without even trying. That is scary to many.
No strategic planning engagement should be considered complete until this sort of platform has been loaded with the strategic plan, goal owners, goal deadlines and all ongoing work is mapped to this structure. This exercise will also produce a handy list of “stuff we shouldn’t be doing because it does not align to our strategic plan.”
4. Require across-the-board commitment to the agreed-upon mission and support of the strategic plan. Aloud. In print. Get tattoos together.
After you are finished, you will be a hero. Here is why: The happy day that results when your organization is aligned is characterized by each group member’s ability to make decisions autonomously and independently. They can do so and remain in alignment with the group's stated goals. You do not have to micromanage, and that makes everybody happy. The sun will shine; birds will sing. Then, all that is left is for you to make good peanut butter and feed hungry kids.
Katrina VanHuss and Otis Fulton have written a book, "Dollar Dash," on the psychology of peer-to-peer fundraising. Click here to download the first chapter, courtesy of NonProfit PRO!
Katrina VanHuss is the CEO of Turnkey, a U.S.-based strategy and execution firm for nonprofit fundraising campaigns. Katrina has been instilling passion in volunteer fundraisers since 1989 when she founded the company. Turnkey’s clients include most of the top thirty U.S. peer-to-peer campaigns — Susan G. Komen, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the ALS Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as well as some international organizations, like UNICEF.
Otis Fulton is a psychologist who joined Turnkey in 2013 as its consumer behavior expert. He works with clients to apply psychological principles to fundraising. He is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit messaging. He has written campaigns for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The March of Dimes, the USO and dozens of other organizations.
Now as a married couple, Katrina and Otis almost never stop talking about fundraising, volunteerism, and human decision-making – much to the chagrin of most dinner companions.
Katrina and Otis present regularly at clients’ national conferences, as well as at BBCon, NonProfit Pro P2P, Peer to Peer Forum, and others. They write a weekly column for NonProfit PRO and are the co-authors of the 2017 book, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising." They live in Richmond, Virginia, USA.